Organic, gluten free, and other “way better” snacks made their mark at the 2015 Fancy Food Show in San Francisco this week. I wasn’t there but I’ve attended before. These shows are a glutton’s paradise, and challenge everyone else to walk out feeling good. The stakes have changed, and an LA Times piece reports that offerings this year emphasized “guilt free snacking”.
Food manufacturers and new-to-the-food-scene entrepreneurs offer a dizzying array of foods vying for a coveted space on your supermarket shelves. These “better for you” snacks mix in kale, coconut and spouted grains. They include fewer ingredients and herald any number of trendy health claims, but I’m not so sure about guilt free snacking.
MORE CALORIES, LESS NUTRIENTS
Snacking often replaces sit-down kind of eating, with snacking historically linked with increased caloric intake and decreased nutrient intake. A 2012 USDA survey focused on snacking habits of more than 5,000 adults aged 20 years and older, revealing that “about one-third of all daily calories come from “empty calories,” (ie: snack foods made from solid fats and added sugars which provide little nutritional value).”
Maybe all these “way better” items will change the nutritional landscape of eating between meals, but I’m not sure a better snack translates to eating better. Potential benefits hinge on the big picture: what else and how much you consume.
Ideally snacking is tied to hunger. A snack provides an opportunity to meet your energy needs when you get hungry between meals, but too often hunger has nothing to do with snacking. We live in an indulgent environment with snacks used to reward, seduce, self soothe, and bribe. We eat snacks because they’re offered, they’re free, or we want something to do. People often say, “I need a little something” often without determining exactly what they need.
BREAKING THE CODE FOR “NEEDING SOMETHING”
So is it hunger or something else? The body cues us to act when we feel uncomfortable, but too often a cue can be misinterpreted. Check in to find out what your body is asking for the next time you sense that you “need something”. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Are you truly hungry? A few bites of food should trigger a sense of relief. If there is no sense of “enough”, there are a few other concerns to check out
- Do you eat enough protein at your meals? Greek yogurt and a few slices of almonds may not be enough. Most clients feel a greater sense of satisfaction all day long when meals provide 20-30 grams of protein (about 3-4 ounces of animal protein)
- Are you eating mostly carbohydrate snacks? Carbohydrate rich foods like fruit, vegetables, and grains provide quick energy but often don’t deliver a sense of satiety. If you don’t feel satisfied with carbohydrate rich snacks, you may need a better balance with protein and fat.
- Are you thirsty? Too often we grab for something to eat when we mostly need some water to drink.
- Do you need to move? Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity and your body’s ability to use both glucose and fat for fuel. When cells are not using insulin effectively, the body responds by secreting even more insulin. Hyperinsulinemia can wreck havoc on blood glucose levels and your sense of “hunger”.
- Maybe you’re not hungry at all, but just used to using food to (fill in the blank). No surprise here. Food is relatively cheap, readily available, immediately gratifying, socially acceptable, not illegal, and can be consumed by yourself or with company.
Food remains an incredibly effective short term buffer, with long term consequences.Ideally snacking is tied to hunger and we choose mostly whole foods, taking guilt right out of the equation. Cultivate the skills to allow food it’s rightful place, and choose snacks wisely. Snacking should honor your sense of enough even when the package says “Way Better”.